Of iPhones and Preaching

Posted: April 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

iphonebibleWe all tend to be people pleasers in one degree or another, perhaps none more so than us pastors. As such, we have a tendency of trying to meet our congregations felt needs through counselling, visitation, leadership and in our preaching. The question is, does this approach really help or is there perhaps, a better way?

Well of course, Jesus said that I am the way, the truth and the life. And as we read through the gospels we discover that He came not just to meet our felt needs but instead to meet and satisfy our real, much deeper needs for things like forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. Needs that many of us never even knew we had.

Listen, for a moment, to the way Matt McCullough (Pastor of Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee) explains this…

A friend had loaned me a copy of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, a captivating read. I was especially struck by a passage where Jobs describes his product development strategy and its relationship to market research:

Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” (567).

Job’s point is that it’s not enough to offer customers what they already think they need. He wanted Apple to be a transformational influence, which meant his goal was to expose and then meet needs and desires that customers didn’t realize they had. He was aiming at things that, in the minds and hearts of his customers, were “not yet on the page.”

With a little tweaking, I’ve found this Jobsian insight to be really helpful for pushing myself out of the realm of Bible trivia and into the realm of life transformation.

THE BIBLE DOESN’T JUST ADDRESS OUR NEEDS—IT DEFINES THEM

If the Bible is God-breathed and profitable, a covenant document preserved in total for our good, then all of it stands over us with authority to define our true condition and diagnose our deepest needs. And if this is true, preaching that submits to the Bible’s priorities and seeks to meet the deepest needs of our hearers will address needs that are not yet on the page. Part of our job as bridge-builders is to help people get a taste of their needs as the Bible defines and meets them.

Ford knew his customers wanted faster horses, but what they “needed” was the Model T. Jobs knew customers wanted thinner flip phones to leave more room for carrying around their Palm Pilots, but they “needed” pocket-sized computers that make phone calls.

We know our people want advice on how to make relationships more stable, peaceful, and fulfilling—certainly an important need which the Bible richly addresses. But we know our people truly need something even more fundamental. We have broken the relationship at the core of our lives. So we need a priest, a mediator to bridge the gap and make peace. And what we really need is a priest like Melchizedek. We need one who not only knows us inside and out but one who won’t die and pass our case on to someone else.

To faithfully communicate the whole counsel of Scripture in all its diversity, we must labor to free our people from the tyranny of felt needs so they can see beauty and life-giving goodness even in textual obscurity. It will mean looking at every text and trusting that it meets a real need of your people, and that your goal is to explain it to them. This kind of application takes work and gets nowhere without the illuminating power of the Spirit in us and in our people. But this is our target. Guided by Scripture, we go after what’s not yet on the page.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

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